Brain Trust

January 9, 2002

Nick Marinello
Phone: 865-5714

Richard Harlan calls neuroscience the last frontier of biomedical research. Delving into the complicated physiology of the brain to reveal the shadowy vistas of the human mind has been one of the greatest challenges for medical science.

Come Jan. 14, that elusive frontier will be brightly circled on the Tulane map as the Presidential Symposium on Neuroscience brings three internationally recognized scientists to campus for presentations to both academic and lay audiences.

"I am hoping that the Tulane community will be exposed to some of the best neuroscience research that is going on today," says Harlan, a professor of structural and cellular biology.

The symposium's participants include Ann Graybiel, Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Bruce McEwen, Alfred E. Mirsky Professor and director of the Harold and Margaret Milliken Hatch Laboratory of Neuroendocrinolgy at Rockefeller University; and Leslie Ungerleider, chief of the Laboratory of Brain and Cognition at the National Institute of Mental Health.

According to Harlan, the group will address Tulane Health Sciences Center faculty and students in a three-hour morning session that begins at 8:30 a.m. in the medical school's auditorium. Later that day, the speakers will participate in a public session entitled "Your Brain's Future" in the Freeman Auditorium at Woldenberg Art Center at Newcomb College from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Harlan says he hopes the combined effect of the presentations will be to demonstrate to the Tulane community that the potential for neuroscience at Tulane is strong and growing. Currently, the potential is manifested in a neuroscience program composed of approximately 35 faculty members from both the downtown and uptown campuses.

The program, which offers undergraduate and doctorate degrees in neuroscience, has been in place at Tulane since 1986. Harlan, who came to Tulane in 1985, was named director of the program in 1997. Harlan and a committee of faculty members are using a Wall Funds grant received last year to plan for a neuroscience center at Tulane.

"We are looking at the very least to create a center in which to focus research so that faculty can exchange ideas and have a strong seminar series," says Harlan. "That faculty interaction, along with a facility to accommodate research, would put faculty members in position to write large-scale grant applications," he adds.

In that vein, Bruce McEwen will stay at Tulane an extra day to meet with the planning committee and offer recommendations for the center. Later in the spring, three more advisers will visit campus, says Harlan.

"We hope to present the administration with various models for the center by the end of the academic year." All in all, he says, it is an exciting time to work in the field. "We now have the ability to examine what happens with the brain on multiple levels, from the genetic level to real-time imaging of cognitive processes. We are also are moving from a point of simply understanding the diseases of the nervous system to a point where we can offer real treatment. We are in an unprecedented era of neuroscience."

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